Bipartisan Middle East ‘peace’ bill will favor dictatorships and occupation
A resolution with broad bipartisan support is being passed by Congress that would codify one of Donald Trump’s controversial foreign policy initiatives – the so-called Abraham Accords that have bolstered US support for dictatorships Arabs in exchange for their formal recognition of Israel.
Law for normalizing relations with Israel counts 329 House Cosponsorsand 72 co-sponsors in the Senate, almost evenly split between the two parties.
The bill celebrates and seeks to bolster Trump’s deal that saw Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sudan and Morocco normalize relations with Israel. None of these countries would have recognized Israel had it not been for a series of actions by the United States that essentially amounted to bribery and extortion.
The bill claims that the deals brokered by Trump and his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, were “peace accords.” However, with the exception of a small contingent sent by Morocco midway through the October 1973 conflict between Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria, none of the signatory countries had never been at war with Israel. None of these countries threatened Israel, none of them had the capability to threaten Israel, and the distance between Israel and these countries ranged from 750 to 3,200 miles.
If passed, the bill would require the State Department to “develop and submit to appropriate congressional committees a strategy for expanding and strengthening the Abraham Accords,” including the means by which the US government intends to “leverage diplomatic lines of effort and resources to encourage normalization.”
The “normalization” of diplomatic relations in the 2020 agreements that Congress seeks to expand and strengthen was part of a quid pro quo: In 2020, the tiny Gulf emirates of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates agreed to recognize Israel in exchange of a lucrative arms deal with the United States. states that Trump has threatened to deny otherwise. The Sudanese government has agreed to normalize relations with Israel in exchange for the United States lifting devastating sanctions against that country. More controversially, Morocco agreed to recognize Israel in return for the United States becoming virtually the only country to officially recognize Morocco’s illegal annexation of Western Sahara, which has been under a brutal Moroccan military occupation since its conquest of the former Spanish colony in 1975.
Criticisms of the Abraham Accords are effectively banned in these Arab states, each of which has notoriously poor human rights records. Bahrain, with the support of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, engaged in a brutal and deadly crackdown on nonviolent pro-democracy activists in 2011 and peaceful dissent continues to be suppressed in the island kingdom. The UAE is also a repressive regime that is particularly abusive towards foreign workers who make up the majority of the population, and it has engaged in war crimes in Yemen. Sudan is ruled by a repressive military junta that violently cracked down on pro-democracy activists after staging a coup last fall toppling the civilian-led coalition government. The Moroccan monarchy is continuing its gruesome, decades-long occupation of Western Sahara, which Freedom House ranked second only to Syria in its suppression of political rights.
This bill could be seen as part of the decades-long tradition of the United States supporting Arab dictatorships by suppressing pro-democracy struggles while then justifying its support for the Israeli occupation on the grounds that Israel is ” the only democracy in the Middle East”.
This legislative initiative perpetuates the myth that the key to peace in the Middle East is for Israel to be recognized by autocratic Arab states, not for Israel to end its occupation. There is no mention of the Israeli occupation in the bill, let alone a call for its end. Indeed, by weakening Arab influence over Israel by recognizing this government before Israel recognizes Palestine, it lessens the pressure on Israel to make the compromises necessary for peace. For nearly 20 years, all Arab countries have officially supported the normalization of relations with Israel in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. This bipartisan majority in Congress sponsoring this bill, however, insists that Arab recognition should be unilateral. This legislation therefore appears to be designed to remove that leverage from the Palestinian side, one of the few remaining avenues for the millions of Palestinians who suffer under Israel’s occupation and colonization of the West Bank.
It has long been a priority of successive US administrations and congressional leaders of both parties to push Arab countries to recognize Israel while actively discouraging other countries from recognizing Palestine. (Indeed, US law requires cutting off all US aid to any UN agency that includes Palestine as a member, which led President Obama to suspend US contributions to UNESCO in 2011 and President Trump to withdraw completely in 2017, resulting in a major reduction in efforts to promote peace through international cooperation in education, arts, science and culture.)
As a result, despite the bill’s pro-peace rhetoric, the Normalizing Relations with Israel Act appears to be designed to make peace even more elusive by entrenching the Israeli occupation and weakening the non-violent means of challenging it.
A recent poll of American scholars on the Middle East found nearly three-quarters of those polled agreed that the Abraham Accords had in fact had a negative impact on the prospects for peace, with only 6% saying they had a positive impact. However, the majority of congressional Democrats joined their Republican colleagues in insisting that this broad consensus of Middle Eastern scholars is wrong and that Trump was right.